How to Make Mosquitoes think you stink and avoid the Zika Virus

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With the recent mini-outbreak of Zika virus in Miami – first Midtown and most recently Miami Beach, it’s important to make yourself unappetizing to hungry mosquitoes and avoid the Zika Virus

By being stinky to mosquitoes, you may not only protect yourself from annoying itchiness and welts but reduce the likelihood of contracting several mosquito-borne illnesses including the most recent threat, Zika. The females are interested in your blood – that’s how they reproduce. To increase their chances of reproducing they have developed an impressive ability to detect certain chemicals from a staggering distance of up to 50 yards! They’re especially attracted to lactic acid, carbon dioxide, body odor and those who sweat saccharides (basically, sugar).


The gold standard of mosquito repellant is DEET. Although the medical community has deemed DEET as safe, many people have reservations about applying this chemical. From 1961 to 2002, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports eight deaths related to DEET exposure.

Chronic DEET exposure may also impair brain function as demonstrated in lab rats who demonstrated behavioral changes and even death, hence the recommendation by the CDC to use long sleeves and pants while applying Interestingly, DEET is the only repellent recommended by the CDC to protect again Lyme disease. (1*)

Repellant Alternatives

1. Picaridin

This synthetic compound was first made in the 1980’s and made to resemble piperine, which is found in a group of plants used to produce black pepper (2*). The World Health Organization recommends picaridin as a good DEET alternative as it is not known to irritate the skin and eyes and lacks a pungent odor. Regardless, picardin is not recommended for children under the age of 3 and has been shown to be moderately toxic to fish and inhibits algae growth in water that contains picaridin.

Picaridin “does not carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET but has not been tested as much over the long term.” (3*)

2. IR3535

Found in brands such as Skin So Soft™ and Coleman’s Skin Smart, this synthetic amino acid interferes with mosquito’s ability to detect you. IR3535 is a brand name, so be on the lookout for the chemical names:

  • IUPAC: 3-(N-n-Butyl-N-acetyl)aminopropionic acid ethyl ester
  • BPD notified Name: Ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninate
  • INCI: Ethyl Butylacetylaminopropionate
  • CAS number: 52304-36-6

3. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

This botanical repellant originated from the eucalyptus tree of Australia. There is some testing that shows that 20 to 26 percent PMD (refined active ingredient in tree extract) may be as effective as 15 to 20 percent DEET, although for a shorter duration (4*)

4. Active Ingredient Options

DEETChemical8-10+ hours
PicaridinChemicalUp to 8 hours
Oil of Lemon EucalyptusSynthesized plant oilUp to 6 hours
IR3535Synthesized plant oil4-8 hours

5. Use Repellants Safely

Even though many repellants may be considered “safe”, long-term use may not be your best option. Every repellent has the opportunity to cause skin rash and irritation and even light-headedness. If you use repellents, here are some useful tips on safe application:

  • Don’t apply to open wounds, scratches or irritated skin
  • Use sparingly and just enough to cover the exposed skin.
  • Don’t spray directly on the face. Apply to hands first then rub on the face avoiding the eyes, mouth and nostrils. Use sparingly around the ears.
  • Make sure that food is nowhere need the spray zone for risk of cross contamination
  • Wash repellent from your skin and wash your treated clothes.

6. B-Vitamins

Evidence of B1 (thiamine) as an effective mosquito repellent is very limited and largely anecdotal with many swearing my B-vitamins having an effect of reducing bites. Although a study in the late sixties has demonstrated effectiveness, others have failed to do so (5*). The studies since that have been done on the claims of B-vitamins reducing bites have been limited to oral supplementation and vitamin patch. None have tested injections or specific b-vitamin ratios.

We recommend that using B-vitamins exclusively to avoid being bit by those pesky suckers is not a valid strategy, but may be considered in addition to others since not one single method is 100% effective. Unlike repellants, B-vitamins have positive benefits for the body such as preventing memory loss, migraines, promoting healthy skin, hair and nails and boost the immune system.

  4. (Abdel-Rahman et al 2001, ATSDR 2004, Corbel et al. 2009)
  5. Meyer B. Marks *(1969). Stinging Insects: Allergy Implications Pediatric Clinics of North America, Volume 16, Issue 1, Pages 177-191

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